House votes to raise retirement age for federal firefighters

The House Tuesday approved a bill to raise the mandatory retirement age for federal firefighters from 55 to 57. The Federal Firefighters Retirement Age Fairness Act (H.R. 93) sponsored by Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., would make the mandatory separation age for federal firefighters the same as that for federal law enforcement officers with 20 years of service--57 years of age. We are losing our best and our most experienced firefighters to forced early retirement," Gallegly told House members. "Federal firefighters not only fight fires, they provide emergency medical service response, respond to hazardous material situations and inspect and protect our military bases and other federal employees. In fact, they were among the first to respond to the Oklahoma City bombing." If enacted, Gallegly said, H.R. 93 would help the federal government maintain more experienced firefighters in both the field and senior management positions. According to Gallegly, the Congressional Budget Office estimates a savings of $4 million over the next five years if the bill becomes law. The bill would help address a problem that arose last summer during one of the worst wildfire seasons in decades. A shortage of experienced managers prompted President Clinton to send 2,000 federal managers and supervisors from the Interior and Agriculture Departments to Western states to provide support to federal and local firefighters. The managers provided logistical support to firefighters and helped manage fire crews. "Last year was one of the worst fire seasons in our nation's history," said Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M. Fires in Udall's district consumed more than 75,000 acres and burned more than 200 homes. "We are losing wildland firefighters at an alarming rate to retirement or other occupations," Udall said. "H.R. 93 would allow the Federal wildland fire agencies to keep experienced firefighters on the line to safely protect homes, families, and businesses. Moreover, the bill would allow more time for senior fire managers to obtain higher incident command qualifications."
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